Blessings of the Shema: To Learn & To Teach
“God spoke” (Exodus 20:1). In reference to this verse it states: “Then He looked and recorded it, He prepared it and perfected it… and He said to man, etc.” (Iyov, 28:27-28) The
Torah teaches that if you are a Torah scholar you should not be arrogant, and that you must refrain from speaking about a matter publicly until you have reviewed it on your own two or three times.
An incident happened with Rabbi Akiva where he was summoned by the leader of a synagogue to read from a Torah Scroll for the public, and he refused. He explained to is students: “The only reason I refused to read was because I had not reviewed that section two or three times.” For we find that the Holy One, Blessed Is He, Who provide eloquent speech to all creations, and the Torah is revealed before Him like a single brilliant star, yet when He approached to give it to Israel, it is written, “Then He looked and He recorded it, He prepared it and perfected it”, and following that “and He said to man”. And similarly, here it is written “God spoke all these statements”, to Himself, and afterwards, “saying”, to the Children of Israel. (Midrash Tanchuma, Yitro #15)
The image that the Midrash is conveying is a beautiful and powerful one. How God prepared the statements and repeated them to Himself -so to speak-, before transmitting them as everlasting words to us; and how, therefore, we must review a Torah matter several times before saying it to others.
It seems that the lesson to be learned is not simply that one must be fluent and well-versed in a particular subject before attempting to communicate it to others. “Practice makes perfect” doesn’t just mean that by repeating it, we will avoid making mistakes when sharing it with others.
When we review something many times, when we prepare it and perfect it, what happens is that it becomes a part of us, and we become a part of it. It is only then that, when we share it with others, it can penetrate their hearts and be internalized.
When we say “to learn and to teach” in the Blessings of the Shema, we should be aware that just as God Himself “prepared” the words of His Torah before presenting them to the Children of Israel, and infused every letter with His essence, when we review a matter and repeat it to ourselves numerous times, it gains momentum as it becomes an expression of our soul. It is only then that we can begin to emulate God as Teachers of Torah.